Matchbox Carousel Horses

Oh goodness. These little guys are highly addictive! They seem ordinary in photos, but when you get one in hand, it's all over. They are fun to collect and small enough that they hardly compromise your storage space. They are one of the lesser known horse collectibles out there and really deserved more webspace devoted to them, so I had to make a couple pages for em.

Who would have thought Matchbox capable of such finery? In 1989, they made a tiny niche for this line of detailed, miniature horses, joining the other brands of the era. My Little Pony was losing her audience, becoming overwrought with distorted molds, gimmicky themes, tacky, moving parts, and constant, repetitive use of flowers and flowery names; gone was the color variety, the unique symbol and identity of each pony, and the classic body type that had made the brand popular.
In the seeming effort to adopt disenchanted pony collectors, other companies tried their hand at horse manufacture. Fashion Star Fillies and Grand Champions made their debut, and Matchbox unveiled The Carousel Collection. The following are pics of most, but there were several more classic horses released, and not all pictured were made available.

Photos from MHG

These horses, about the size of modern Wind Dancer adults, were sold with plastic horse charms and came on golden poles, with stands that had their names on them. Cast in solid plastic/pvc on three different molds, they had sculpted manes and synthetic hair tails, and were designed like classic carousel animals (other species were later added). Their ornate tack was molded on and included tassels, ribbons, flowers, and other decorative accents that called back carousel designs of old, when the horses were handmade, hand-painted, and embellished with great flair. Clearly, the brand's designer and sculptor researched the task well, as these toys reflect much of the beauty and spirit of their real-life counterparts.

Sadly though, one look at the photos will show why the brand didn't last. As we learned from My Little Pony (and have since revisited numerous times), no matter the type of horse, each one needs to have a unique color scheme and distinct identity. A lot of these were too similar to be charming or even tell apart. As with G3 My Little Pony, using too many different colors on each one actually makes them less unique, because there is too much overlap between individuals to yield a solid identity. Too, they should have made more horse molds instead of adding four new animal ones, which anyone could predict would be less popular. (Well, as usual... Anyone but the designers themselves!)

The Carousel Horse has long been a favorite for imprisoning in snowglobes or rendering in ceramic to lunge over music boxes. But this scaling down into plastic for display was new,
to enjoy the carousel horse without worrying about price or breakage. The Matchbox effort seems to have been forgotten, but I think it's just a matter of time before someone realizes this open field and goes for it. Breyer could enjoy huge profit taking, as we've learned that the horse is the most collectible animal in the world, as long as it is sculpted well and made in a plastic-like material. Truly, the only thing that can compete is a variation on the horse, such as a tiny miniature (Stablemate), or a fantasy incarnation (Wind Dancer), so the carousel horse is long overdue for recoginition by a really competent, horse-manufacturing company.

The Matchbox models look very cute, though. They have mostly sound conformation (the hooves are the only failing that bothers me) and traditional features like prancing legs, arched necks, and wind-ruffled manes. They even followed the more odd trends of carousel animals, such as the funky chicken "non-pose," with unnatural leg positioning. They also have the classic face of the carousel horse, the distraught-but-noble expression of the horse's role as a laborer and sufferer of man: ears pinned, and the mouth strained open, bitted and pulled back. (In keeping with true carousel, there is even the inexplicable absence of reins.)

The three poses were a trotting one with the neck arched down, a leaping one with the head up, and a (?) that is in midair flex with head stretched forward. They were sold with cute, plastic horse charms that were cheap but surprisingly realistic and expressive. They also had a fancy display that you could buy separately, and even a working carousel that would turn and play music. You could put ten horses on it and they would actually move up and down.
The line was composed of at least 36 Horses and eight other animals (camel, reindeer, unicorn, and lion - two of each), but there is much uncertainty about how many horses were really made vs. pictured. All were sold permanently attached to plastic poles, which had a lovely, gold patina, but the horses could be taken off of their nameplate stands. This was necessary for them to work on the carousel, but of course invited a world of confusion for names to be mixed up and stands to be lost. (Without a stand, a horse from this collection is quite useless for display, and lies down on the shelf next to MLP Magic Star or Truly or Skippity Doo or GC Flaming Glory or Boomerang or whatever other Non-free-standing horses' stands you have already lost.)

Today, the carousel collection has a small but dedicated collector base, and there is often competition for them, especially the rarer ones.

The carousel and the package photo below show some prototype horses that were changed late in production. The line formerly included two stander poses, and there is even an early version of the jumper with the same, overly-thick legs. Wisely, this body type was nixed for the more graceful features we know today, and Starbright appears in actual form.

Go to Page 2 for more info, links, and a text list, or...

Go to Page 3 to see my collection.

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©Sloane Eljay 2008
Blue Paradise Stables
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